Reviewed by: Pete Barber
Approximate word count: 55,000-60,000 words
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Jameson Parker has been a freelance writer for twenty years, writing for a wide range of outdoor magazines. The Horseman at Midnight is his first novel.
Fourteen-year-old Grady hitchhikes from Virginia to California because of his love of horses and his dislike of his father. He shows up unannounced at his grandfather’s horse ranch, hoping to find a place where he belongs.
A large portion of this book is devoted to horses: riding them, talking about them, talking to them, feeding them, and psyching them out. I’ve only ridden a horse one time—a distinctly unpleasant experience which I plan never to repeat. So, it’s even more remarkable that the author kept my interest. For those readers who like horses (and I understand there are such people), this book would be a real treat.
Grady has an innate affinity with horses. After Grandpa’s second wife died, horses became the center of his life. So, their relationship, from its beginnings in the seed of familial obligation, blossoms into a one of love and mutual respect. The character’s development is expertly managed by the author--I was along for the ride and rootin’ for both of them (pardon my puns). Heck, I was even rootin’ for the horses J
So why is this brilliant story receiving only four stars? Because IMO it needs more work. If Grady and his Gramps are brilliantly realized, sadly, his father and the life Grady ran away from, aren’t. And that’s a shame, because we never get to experience how the father and his son, or the father and the grandpa reconcile—which leaves the story feeling unfinished.
And mostly because of the ending. It’s an understatement to say this was rushed. I had to re-read a large section to find out what happened to the main character and how the climactic scene actually played out.
Gosh, I wish Mr. Parker would go back and write a dozen more chapters. Let Grady’s dad and girlfriend arrive and fill out the family saga while all the players are still alive. Maybe give a little more depth to the drug addict and his dealer (whose part in the story makes it a thriller). And take as much time detailing the ending as he does over the breaking of a “boogerty-bastard palomino”.
Despite my frustrations, this is an enjoyable, feel-good story with excellent prose. I’m glad I read it, and even those of you who, like me, don’t ‘get’ horses will be, too. A must-read story for horse lovers and outdoorsmen/women.
Rating: **** Four stars